On speaking with the dead.

Jesus tells us a parable in Luke 16:19-31. Pay special attention to the last line.

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’25 “‘Son, ’Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’ 27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Now let’s look at a verse from the prophet Isaiah –

Isaiah 8:19-20
19 When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.

We too live in a time where people would rather consult “spiritualists” than God. But perhaps they can’t hear from God. Where is the connection broken? Sometimes God doesn’t talk to humans. Sometimes we don’t talk to God.

This reminds me of the story of Samuel, a young prophet, when he first was called by God. Pay special attention to verses 1 and 7.

1 Samuel 3:1-10
The boy Samuel served the LORD in Eli’s presence. In those days the word of the LORD was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.2 One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room. 3 Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the LORD, where the ark of God was located. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.” 5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call,” Eli replied. “Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Once again the LORD called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “I didn’t call, my son,” he replied. “Go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel had not yet experienced the LORD, because the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 Once again, for the third time, the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

What if we live in a time where God is speaking, but nobody is listening? What if we think that only ministers can hear from God, but everybody else can’t?

Jesus came to make us all like brothers – equal.

Matthew 23:8-12
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

We are all able to speak to God and to listen. Jesus’ death tore the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies.

Matthew 27:50-51
50 Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.

There is nothing anymore that separates the direct experience of God from everyone. It is no longer a place just for the High Priest. There is no “them” and “us” when it comes to access to God .

You no longer have to consult spiritualists or mediums or even ministers. Why get it second-hand? Go directly to the Source and hear it for yourself.

(All Bible translations are HCSB)

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Gold as God? Good as Gold?

Many of us are familiar with the story of the golden calf. This is what some of the Israelites had talked Moses’ brother Aaron, the high priest, into making for them to worship. A lot of time had passed from when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the tablets from God, and they wanted something to worship.

But notice what happens when Moses comes down from the mountain. He doesn’t just get angry and smash the tablets.

Exodus 32:19-20 (HCSB)
19 As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became enraged and threw the tablets out of his hands, smashing them at the base of the mountain. 20 Then he took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water.

He made them drink the gold. It became part of them. How long does that last? Does it pass on, from generation to generation? What does it mean to have this reminder of not having faith in God as part of you, in your body?

In what other ways have people in Biblical times not trusted in God?

What God says is going to happen always happens – but it rarely happens quickly. God’s timetable is not the same as ours. God told Abraham that he was going to be a father in his old age, and Abraham believed him for a while. Time passed, and still Sarah wasn’t pregnant. She gave him her handmaiden as a surrogate, and he got her pregnant. They took matters into their own hands, and trouble resulted. They didn’t have faith that God was going to do what God said. It was over 12 years later that Sarah got pregnant by Abraham and had Isaac.

King Saul didn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to make the proper offering, and did it himself. This caused God to get very angry and remove the mantle of kingship from him.

What ways do we not wait and trust in God? Is the gold in us? Is taking matters into our own hands just hardwired into our DNA?

This is a test. This is something we can overcome, but not on our own. If we give it to God and ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our basic tendency to rush things and do things on our own. We can overcome if we yoke ourselves to God.

Do God’s thing – not your own.

Several people in the Bible chose to do things their way rather than do things God’s way. In these situations, they either didn’t listen or they didn’t trust that God would do things in God’s time – not theirs. They took matters into their own hands, and caused problems.

King Saul, the first king of Israel, didn’t do exactly what the Lord told him through the priest Samuel. He defeated the enemy who was attacking Israel, but spared their king and some livestock. He was told to wipe them out, to leave nothing standing.

1 Samuel 15:1-3 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish what Am′alek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and smite Am′alek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’”

The battle took place.

1 Samuel 15:7-9
7 And Saul defeated the Amal′ekites, from Hav′ilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amal′ekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

Saul didn’t “utterly destroy” all that they had. He kept the best of the livestock alive, along with the king. Because of this, Saul is rejected as the king of Israel. He was not obedient to the Lord.

1 Samuel 15:10-11
10 The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night.

When Samuel challenged Saul about his disobedience, Saul acted like he had done nothing wrong. Saul said he kept all the good stuff so he could offer it as a sacrifice. Samuel says that isn’t what he was supposed to do. Saul had made a decision he shouldn’t have.

1 Samuel 15:22-23
22 And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to hearken than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

Saul tries to get out of it, asking Samuel to pardon him. It isn’t for Samuel to pardon him. The Lord has already made the decision. To be really honest, Saul is the one who made the decision to not do what he was commanded to do. He isn’t being punished out of the blue – he made a bad choice. He is facing the consequences of his action.

The words of Samuel are echoed later by the prophet Hosea.
Hosea 6:6
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.

Abraham is also someone who took matters into his own hands.

Genesis 15:1-6
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie′zer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

So Abraham and Sarah (at this point named Abram and Sarai) couldn’t figure out how they were going to have children, so they decided instead of waiting on God to make it happen, they’d make it happen on their own.

Genesis 16:1-6
Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; 2 and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. 3 So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sar′ai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sar′ai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sar′ai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

While Hagar was away from Sarai, an angel of the Lord prophesied to her.

Genesis 16:7-16
7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar′ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar′ai.” 9 The angel of the LORDsaid to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Ishmael is the progenitor of the Arabic people.

Note Abraham’s age. He’s 86. It is thirteen years later when the story picks up again. He’d been told that God would make him the father of a nation, and still nothing has happened. Then God talks to him again.

Genesis 17:1-9
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

God then asks him to circumcise himself and all of the males in his household as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. After that, the Lord again promises that Abraham will have a son, but this time there is a time mentioned.

Genesis 18:10a
10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old – 14 years after the Lord told him that he would be the father of a nation.

While everything worked out for Abraham and Sarah, things didn’t go so well for Hagar and Ishmael. They were sent off to die in the wilderness. God heard their distress and rescued them. This is also the source of the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. Both want their birthright, and they are unable to share it.

Then there is Moses. God told him to speak to the rock to get water out of it. Instead, he struck it with his staff.

Numbers 20:1-13
And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 2 Now there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people contended with Moses, and said, “Would that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them,7 and the LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Mer′ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the LORD, and he showed himself holy among them.

On an earlier occasion when they needed water, he had been told to strike the rock, so perhaps he was confused. Perhaps he wasn’t intentionally disobeying God.

Exodus 17:1-7
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Reph′idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Mer′ibah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the LORD to the proof by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Because he disobeyed, even unintentionally, he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. He died in the desert.

So, we are to obey the Lord’s instructions precisely, and we are to trust that if the Lord says something is going to happen, it will. It isn’t for us to force it or to take matters into our own hands. It is for us to let God work through us and with us, not in spite of us.

The story of Samuel

I love the story of Samuel in the Old Testament. There is so much in it that I find really meaningful that I’d like to share it with you. All verses are from the New Revised Standard Version.

The story starts with Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Hannah is a woman who is unable to conceive a child, and her husband’s other wife has many children and constantly berates her for her lack of children. Hannah is deeply upset and goes to the temple to pray for a child.

I Samuel 1:9-16
“9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow:”O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” 12 As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”

The priest doesn’t even know what a praying person looks like. This is really amazing to me. A priest should be acquainted with the idea of a praying people. He should know the difference between holy and crazy.

Here’s another interesting part. She is upset and pouring out her heart to the Lord. She is making a vow that if she is able to have a child, she will give him up to God. She is asking God for something that she is then going to give back to God. This is amazing. She isn’t asking for something for herself. She wants a child, but then she isn’t going to keep him.

When he was weaned, she took him back to the Temple and put him in the service of God. He was a child. She didn’t have him for very long. She kept him just long enough to wean him so that he didn’t need her any more. She honored her promise. How many of us make promises to God in a time of distress and then we go back on them or forget them when everything is fine? I know I do.

Samuel first heard the voice of God in the middle of the night.

1 Samuel 3:1-9
“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

Eli, the priest, hadn’t ever heard the voice of God.

Here is a person set aside to serve the Lord and he hasn’t heard from the Lord. Ever. He is following the rules and regulations. He is following along with tradition. But he has no real connection with God. He is doing the way they’ve always done it because they’ve always done it that way. But he’s never heard from God. He is just following along in the book.

He also is squandering the offering. He had been using the offerings for himself and for his children.

So just because someone is ordained, it doesn’t mean that they are holy. Sometimes it is just a job to them.

Be careful of who you trust. Be careful of who you follow.

The Lord told Samuel that Eli was about to get punished, along with his children, because of their iniquity.

1 Samuel 3:10-18
10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God,[b] and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

I’m actually amazed that Eli listened to Samuel, that he believed that the Lord was speaking to him. But then that amazement is cancelled out with the last line “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

As if it is some random thing the Lord is about to do to him. As if he doesn’t deserve what is about to happen to him. The Lord doesn’t strike down Eli and his sons on a whim. They intentionally didn’t do what was right. They got what was coming to them. It wasn’t random.

There is a lot that goes on in this little story, and I’m sure there is a lot more that I’m missing. Samuel grows up to be a great prophet and leader, and Samuel is the person who is lead by the Lord to find and anoint David as king.